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Jaguar XJ-S

Jaguar XJ-S Published: 30th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJ-S
Jaguar XJ-S
Jaguar XJ-S
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A misunderstood masterpiece when new, the Jaguar XJ-S has slowly matured into a true classic GT. Does this mean looks aren’t everything?

The Jaguar XJ-S lasted a long time for a car that was hardly raved about when new. The car that supplanted the E-type, yet never really replaced it, somehow managed to outlive the famed sports car it usurped by eight years before its replacement in 1996 by the XK8 – a car effectively built around an updated XJ-S floorpan.

When in the showrooms, many couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see past the avant-garde bodywork and minimalist interior – and yet, the E-type it replaced also lacked walnut trim and had a body rooted in its age. What few could argue with was the power available from that V12, and the undeniable halo effect it had upon the BL range. But that BL blight meant that reliability was never the XJ-S’s forte.

Once the XJ-S was everywhere; the ultimate council-estate symbol of the local boy done good. And most of these were gold – to hide the rust you know – and very few were tidy. These are the ones that cemented the car’s poor reputation during the 1980’s, and the cars which have now become big piles of useful spares. Nowadays, only the nice examples are left… and a nice XJ-S is a very pleasing car indeed.

On the move

The biggest criticism of the XJ-S when it was new was the styling; the square jawed look with its trapezoidal headlamps wasn’t for everyone nor the pseudo mid-engine buttresses – which, ironically gave the car its distinctive look. After the E-type, it just wasn’t good enough for most. Ditto the woodless interior although few carped about the comfort. Getting in and out was fine too as long as you weren’t too tall or portly, and once ensconced the seats were comfortable enough for a blast down to the French Riviera. There was nothing about the XJ-S which didn’t stack up Jensen’s far more expensive Interceptor; if it did have a viable rival it’s was Jaguar’s own XJC.

Let’s first talk about driving the model that most people overlook – the original 3.6 manual. Why? Because it’s the bestkept secret in the world of the XJ-S. While there is more drama to a V12 (very few manuals were made, now highly prized), it’s not that much more powerful. The six-cylinder manuals have more character – especially the later 4.0-litre replacement – with a rough six pot howl as you floor it, turning into a snarl as you pass 5000rpm, you feel like you’re driving a real GT car not least due to the weighty clutch and the meaty, long throw shift between gears. 225- 240bhp might not be an awful lot by today’s standards but it’s more than ample to keep this old Jag motoring along briskly enough – and to provide a marvellous sense of occasion.

It’s more than likely you’ll buy an auto but fear not, that innovative ‘Randle Handle’ J-gate design – which is far preferable to the original selector that some magazines judged as dangerous due to its straight gait where you can run past ‘neutral’ and into reverse if you’re not careful – provides a snappy sporty manual override and is the next best thing to a manual. Besides, the Jag’s torquey engines don’t need much cog swapping, particularly V12s. Instead focus on the supreme refinement only a Jag serves up. As one weekly noted “The bloody thing freewheels up hills”.

Round the corners

While the XJ-S was never intended to be a sports car in the 911 mould, there is a deftness of touch and a nimbleness to the six-cylinder manuals that is distinctly lacking from the three speed autos found in the heavynosed V12s, and which is even lacking in the six-cylinder automatics. Motor Sport magazine agreed; concluding in ’83 that the 3.6 manual offered “a magnificent blend of almost regal, boulevard splendour and sports car agility” before concluding that the car was a more appealing package than the V12.

Initial turn-into a corner is good if roll prone and a little numb owing to the power finger-light steering set up. If driven carefully though, there’s always enough grip, though an XJ-S is not one of those cars we’d advise you to drive with gusto in the wet – there’s always a surplus of power at hand.

The spacing between the manual gear ratios is spot on – great for cruising, or if you want to work your way through the ’box, the chosen ratios make the most of the wide power bands. While the pedals are a little awkwardly placed for heel and toe downshifts, it’s rarely a problem while with J gate you simply move the lever over to the left and choose your ratio like a good manual For more relaxing motoring, driving in a manner the majority of classics are driven, the XJ-S is equally in its element – more so perhaps. Leave it in a high gear, radio on, you can swan around feeling a million dollars. Because whatever those detractors may have said when the car was new, in 2018 that’s exactly what you’ll look – and for pennies.

Go or no go

The Jaguar XJ-S has long been the lame duck of Browns Lane, continually underachieving. But the tide has turned, and the XJ-S is at long last being acknowledged as the great 1970s, 1980s and 1990s grand tourer that it always was – something we’ve been banging on about for at least a decade.

Buy now, and you’ll not regret it when your investment has appreciated in five years’ time. With its appeal growing by the day, the Jaguar XJ-S is one of those cars you should sample before it becomes too late and too expensive.

Quick spin

PERFORMANCE - None are exactly slow you know!
CRUISING - What the XJ-S was made for
HANDLING - Too soft and soggy to be sports car but, apart from steering, ok
BRAKES - XJ12 set up work wells enough
EASE OF USE - Over the shoulder visibility not brilliant, small windows, thirsty but always satisfying like all Jags



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